Tuesday 18 June 2013

Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (1968)

Hello everyone,

Sorry about the long period of silence but I have been finishing my degree! Now it is all done I can get back to more regularly posting on this blog.

Today I will be analysing 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing', the classic Gaye / Terrell track. A favourite of mine, it is a good example of how Jamerson can construct a simple yet effective bass line that drives the song forward. Hope you enjoy it! As always, video is at the bottom.

P.S. This site has been steadily getting more and more views every month (more than I could have ever imagined when I first posted!) and I have decided that I would like to involve you all more in the blog. I am working on a way for you to vote on which line you would like me to analyse and cover next. I have had lots of feedback from visitors to this site saying how useful they found the analysis and I think that it would be cool for you to be able to request certain tracks. So, keep your eyes peeled as I will try to get some sort of message / voting system up and running ASAP.

In the mean time, keep playing and listening to Jamerson's work... there is a reason why he is still so highly regarded after all these years!



Chorus 1

The classic root, fifth, major sixth line that runs throughout the first two bars is a standard Jamerson figure that features in many Motown tracks. What is interesting about this particular example however is how he chooses to continue playing the line over the Fm, strongly emphasising the flattened seventh (Eb) and later the fifth (C). By sticking to this hook he can create a strong rhythmic and harmonic feature of the song, one that he returns to throughout the track.

A quick open A at the end of bar two acts as a chromatic passing note into the bar of Abmaj7. Rhythmically this bar is very similar to the previous two. Harmonically, he simply outlines the chord through the use of the root, fifth and major seven, before again using an open string (this time E) to jump down to the F. Here, he simply climbs and drops through the root, fifth and octave, before returning to the already established pickup into the next bar of Eb. The overall effect is that of a strong rhythmical establishment that drives the song whilst only using relatively simple note choices, sticking mostly to arpeggios and chord tones.

Verse 1

After thoroughly establishing his chorus phrase, Jamerson allows himself a great deal more rhythmic and harmonic freedom when playing through the verse. Using only the root (Eb) followed by a quick open E passing note, he plays through the Eb chord and into a driving phrase based around F, Bb and G that climbs up to the Abmaj7 in the next bar. Here he outlines the Abmaj7 using the root, third, fifth and a quick passing fourth, all whilst using the quaver / double semiquaver rhythm that features throughout the line. He then holds a G (root), before a quick ghost note into an impressive semiquaver run. Although this does outline the G7+ to some extent, using the root, second and third, it is arguably more of a build up into the next bar, where he simply holds a C for half the bar.This is a good example of how Jamerson adds tension and release through the use of rhythmical variations.

Over the Cm7 he plays a chromatic walking feature that jumps between scale tones and passing notes. This establishes a rhythm that features in the first half of the next bar. Here he plays the root of the Bbm7, a passing D onto the Eb and a passing G onto the Ab. The use of these non-diatonic notes from open strings is something that Jamerson frequently uses and here it adds to the driving rhythm of the line.

A simple walk down through the root, major seven and sixth of the Abmaj7 chord takes us to the Eb, where after a root based phrase he again returns to the already established root, fifth and sixth hook. After a full verse of new rhythmic and harmonic ideas, the return to this familiar phrase grounds the song; giving the listener an already featured movement, whilst also building up to the next verse.

Verse 3

This is a good example of how Jamerson can recall phrases used in previous sections and develop them either rhythmically, harmonically or both. The first bar shows him repeating a phrase that is used in both previous verses. In bar two he outlines the Abmaj7 through a quick semiquaver run of root, third and fifth, before doing the same on the G7+. Interestingly, he ignores the sharpened fifth in the augmented chord, opting instead to play a D natural. Like in the first verse, the result is a phrase that acts more as a build up into the next bar, rather than a strict outline of the chord. The speed of the D natural means that it does not clash with the other instruments on the recording.

In the next bar, he once again references and develops the previous line, making rhythmic and harmonic variations whilst still outlining the chord through a walk down to the next bar (Bbm7). Slowly developing and expanding a line is a common Jamerson technique, adding enough variation to keep the line interesting whilst still returning to pre-established phrases.


A classic Jamerson line, he navigates through this section using both arpeggios to outline the harmony and fast chromatic semiquaver runs to string together the different chords. After outlining the Gm7 and G7 through a simple arpeggio, Jamerson then uses a B and A natural to climb down to a Bbm7. Although the B natural is not found in the Cm7 chord, the bouncing rhythm leads the listener to the next chord, minimising the effect of this 'wrong' note.

Over the Abmaj7 he plays a chromatic semiquaver run that walks up to a Bb in the next bar. A similar line is present when he plays over the Db°7 chord, climbing up to a simple F octave drop in the next bar. After a root based figure over the Ab/Bb, he again introduces the Bb C Eb C hook that anchors the line.

Second and Seventh bar of Chorus 3

These two bars show how throughout the song Jamerson has established and expanded upon certain phrases. Compare the first example to the second bar of chorus 1. Notice how the line is almost identical, except from a couple of variations. The last chorus is the climax of the song and to add rhythmic build Jamerson uses almost exclusively semiquavers.

The same can be said for this second example. Again, compare this to the third bar of the first chorus. Here he also plays a very similar line, but adds the semiquaver run on beat three to drive the song forward. Through the use of the open A string he adds a chromatic feel to the line, the speed of which propels the song towards its conclusion.

Notice how throughout this song, Jamerson uses many 'wrong' notes. In particular, he uses the open E and A strings as part of a semiquaver chromatic run up to the next chord. The speed of these passing notes means that rather than the note sticking out as being 'wrong', it forms part of a larger passage that often links the chords together. This is a very common technique that Jamerson uses and you can spot it in many of his lines.

Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing - Marvin Gaye / Tammi Terrell (1968) from Chris Axe on Vimeo.


  1. Great Like always Chris, Two questions that I got... one about Syncopation, lets take for example the Chorus first line analysed. Jamerson Likes to play the rood ahead of the beat at least for 1/16. to be in time Ej Fm between 1st and 2nd measure, all the instruments are playing at the same rhythmic structure right? or is something that he was doing on his on? I know i should be able to tell but I cant :(

    Second: Just curiosity in why Motown songs seems to favored Flats Scales instead of sharps. Any particular reason for that (Ej horns?)

  2. Hey man, you are dead on with these transcriptions. I am a piano player, but use these to help me arrange solo versions of these songs. It's a huge help in terms of getting the right rhythmic feel which is so crucial in motown music. Thanks and keep it up.

  3. I am always amazed at the depth of analysis that can be done on Jamerson. There’s no other bass player that I know of with more bass covers on YouTube and the like. “The real thing” bounce has amazed me for decades. I can’t think of any bass player who would have chosen a line like that for a song like this. We’re used to it now but think about it... Coming out of the intro, his choice for the lick at verse 1 is other worldly. Far from predictable. Listen to some old records from the bass era and try to predict the next logical note or phrase. You’ll be correct more than you realize. Now try that with Jamerson. I remember thinking “ wait- what?-huh?” I’ve been doing this from about the age of 6/7 no lie. I learned the complexities of what was allowed in music from a very early age because of Jamerson. Jazz bassist can break all kinds of rules. Not so with structured Pop/ R&B. James reset the rules and expanded the territory of the bass. He is hands down the greatest bass player the world will ever know!